The ThinkPad branding is one that has a strong reputation with respect to reliability and durability. The Lenovo x230t comes from this family in a convertible form factor. this is nothing new as convertible tablet PC’s have been around for quite a while. Unfortunately, they haven’t gained much sales traction outside of niche markets like certain small medical, business and education fields or self-proclaimed geeks, like me!
The reputation for reliability and form factor are two of the many reasons I chose to purchase this laptop as my last two laptops failed prematurely with little use. since I’m also headed back to college, I thought it might be nice to use the tablet functionality for taking notes in MS OneNote. and lets not forget, the final version of Windows 8 will be released this October, so having a touchscreen to use with the metro interface is also a nice bonus.
At the time of ordering, the only place it was available for purchase was direct through Lenovo as a CTO model (Configured to Order). there were quite a number of options to choose from as far as individual components, but in the end the following was chosen.
As Shipped:ProcessorIntel Core i5-3320M Processor (3M Cache, up to 3.30 GHz)Operating systemGenuine Windows 7 Professional (64 bit)Display type12.5″ Multitouch HD (1366×768) LED Backlit, 3×3 AntennaSystem graphicsIntel® HD Graphics 4000Total memory4 GB PC3-12800 DDR3 (1 DIMM) 1600MHzKeyboardKeyboard Backlit – US EnglishPointing deviceUltraNav™ with TrackPoint® and buttonless multi-touchpadFingerprint readerFingerprint ReaderHard drive320GB Hard Disk Drive, 7200rpmBattery6 Cell ThinkPad Battery X67+Power cord65W AC Adapter – US (2pin)BluetoothBluetooth 4.0 with AntennaIntegrated WiFi adaptersIntel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 AGNAs Tested:Operating systemWindows 8 Release Preview (64 bit)Hard Drive256GB Samsung 830 SSDTotal memory8GB PC3-12800 DDR3 (2 DIMMs) 1600 MHz
Currently you can get a core i3, i5, or i7 processor when you configure the system. The i5 was chosen since the i3 is based off of Intel’s older Sandy Bridge architecture. The i7 would have been nice, but this machine won’t be used for super intensive tasks. Selecting a base model with an i5 also netted an upgrade to Windows 7 Professional for nearly the same price as starting with an i3 system and selecting the i5 upgrade.
The base configuration from Lenovo comes with two sticks of 2GB memory. For the same price, a single stick of 4GB DDR3 memory running at 1600MHz can be selected. For those that are curious, it’s a micron branded chip that runs at only 1.28v and 11-11-11-28 timings according to CPU-z. An additional 4gb soDIMM from Samsung was added to the machine for a total of 8GB. I don’t expect to use many programs that would require more than the initial 4gb of memory; however the performance boost from going to a dual channel memory configuration is definitely worth the relatively small amount of money spent. If you don’t intend to do any upgrades yourself then I would recommend sticking with the 2x2GB option for dual channel memory. to see a performance comparison, see my other post “Why you want Dual Channel Memory for your HD4000 integrated graphics.“
Something to note is that the Samsung memory I installed is rated at 1.35v or 1.5v operation. CPU-z claims this memory is running at only 1.28v along with the micron chip. I ran memtest 86+ for a few hours and it provided no errors. If the 1.28v measurement is accurate, that’s good since it will keep power consumption down, however if the motherboard only runs memory at 1.28v, then you may have problems putting a normal 1.5v chip in there. That just happens to be the normal voltage for almost all DDR3 soDIMM’s being sold today. I’ll see if I can get a hold of some 1.5v memory for testing, however I think it is more than likely a bug with CPU-z since the Ivy Bridge platform is new.
The hard drive is another item I decided to upgrade. Like the memory, this is much cheaper to buy and install on your own when compared to Lenovo’s prices. this laptop has a hard drive bay that only accepts 7mm thick drives instead of the standard 9.5mm. this greatly limits the choices available as 7mm is only recently becoming more popular. off the top of my head, you can use the older models of Intel’s SSDs, some specific Crucial M4s or any of Samsung 830 series as they are all 7mm. I was lucky to find the 256GB Samsung 830 on a one day sale, so that’s what I chose. In my opinion, adding an SSD is one of the best upgrades you can do to any computer. with the prices of SSDs in a steady decline, there aren’t many reasons not to use them as far as I’m concerned.
Design and Build Quality
Design seems to be an area where people either love it or hate it when it comes to ThinkPads. I personally never found them to be attractive aesthetically speaking, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since they do give off that no nonsense vibe which I like. with that said, I have to say that the pictures of this machine don’t do it justice. it really is a beautiful machine in its own right.
The whole outer shell is made of plastic with some kind of soft touch paint. It’s hard to describe, but it does feel really nice and luxurious in the hand. The 6 cell battery which is supposed to double as a hand grip is made of regular smooth plastic which feels cheap in comparison. It’s not that bad though since the soft touch plastic seems to attract fingerprints. there doesn’t appear to be any areas of flex anywhere. The screen is also quite rigid but only swivels clockwise. I’m not a big fan of the swiveling hinge, but it is surprisingly sturdy.
The machine is fairly large at over an inch thick and about 4 LBs, especially by today’s ultraportable standards. however, that size difference is made up in other areas, like expandability, durability, typing feedback, keyboard drainage, standard voltage processors, and possibly most important, a screen that can be written on or turned into tablet mode.
Adding ram to these machines is as easy as removing the cover plate on the bottom which then exposes the ram sockets. The hard disk is replaced with only one screw and a tray that slides out of the side. there is also a dock connector on the bottom which allows the attachment of Lenovo’s optional ultrabase dock.
On the left side there is the main exhaust vent, two USB 3.0 ports, a VGA port, a full size display port, wifi on/ off switch, and a full size 52mm express card slot.
On the right side there is a card reader, Intel gigabit ethernet port, headphone / mic jack, insertable pen (red dot), hard disk cover, kensington lock slot, and a USB 2.0 port that has always on capability for charging your devices.
The front only has some passive vents that are well hidden unless looking strait at the device like so.
The rear has the battery, the DC in, and the secondary vent which shares the same fan as the side vent.
The x230t is one of the ThinkPad models that goes through military spec testing which should provide for a more rugged and durable system. to get more info, check out Lenovo’s site
Overall I’d say it has a beautifully utilitarian design with excellent build quality. there is only one major exception which I am really not happy about. my battery doesn’t lock in place very tightly. there is not a large amount of movement present, but it bothers me to no end, and it makes me worried that it might get worse over time causing the contacts to cease working.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The laptop uses Lenovo’s new island style keyboard which they call the “precision keyboard”. mine has the optional backlighting which is nice, but too much light bleeds out if you ask me. at least they kept the bleed to a minimum from the front of the unit where the user will be looking at it.
Below are some pictures showing the different brightness settings and the bleeding problem I was talking about. The exposure on the camera was kept constant so difference should be fairly representative of what you will get.
Bleeding on high setting.
To be fair, it is not that bad at all angles, but the fact that it does look like this irks me just a little.
I personally like the new keyboard layout, but I’m one of those people that never had the pleasure of experiencing the old models. The keys have nice feedback and are fairly quiet which is good for typing in a lecture hall or something of the sort since the noise won’t bother others.
The touchpad is a Synaptics model with the built in left and right click buttons like that found on most new laptops. it also has a set of dedicated buttons above the touchpad which are meant to be used with the Ultranav TrackPoint. I really like the feel of both sets of buttons, especially when compared with my previous HP laptop. The x230t buttons click really easily and have a high quality feel. The middle button above the touchpad is used in conjunction with the TrackPoint to enable scrolling which I am finding very useful on this laptop.
Some people around the web are complaining about everything that has to do with the touchpad. For the most part I have to agree. The first problem is the size, it’s small…. The second problem is the multi touch gestures. I typically only use the pinch zoom and edge scrolling gestures. Unfortunately, it’s only about 50% accurate in performing these tasks. The touchpad also accepts the two finger scroll method and that is equally as terrible. On the bright side, this this is being used with Windows 8 release preview with Windows 7 drivers which means this could be improved upon with the final version of windows and proper drivers. I must say after cranking the sensitivity all the way up it was also nice to use for mouse movement at least.
The screen comes in four flavors in two types, all of which are IPS panels utilizing Wacom technology (tablet models only). all of them are only 1366×768 also, bummer. The first is the “indoor” screen which is multi-touch (up to five points) and pen enabled with a matte style. The second is the “outdoor” model which is only pen enabled. I was told by a reseller of the x220t model that the outdoor display also supports multitouch with only two points. If someone can verify the validity in this, please leave a comment as I don’t have that model to test. Thanks to the commenter who pointed out that the outdoor screen does NOT have any finger touch capabilities. The outdoor model also has gorilla glass covering the screen for enhanced durability. The Gorilla glass model is a glossy finish. Between the two types, there is the option to have two antennas and webcam capability or three antennas and no webcam capability. The unit under review contains three antennas even though only two are used. (see “Wireless” section).
The IPS panels make the viewing angles and colors much better than anything you would find on a regular laptop. The only downside to them is that they tend to have worse response times than TN technology. The screen on the x230t is no exception. I don’t have a data sheet with manufacturer claims; however ghosting is more noticeable on this screen than my 16ms Dell 2405FPW which utilizes PVA technology. It’s not so terrible that it’s unusable and I would personally take the increased ghosting to get all the other benefits associated with IPS.
The screen seems relatively durable as far as getting scratched with the pen. I did use it for a few days without a screen protector and there was not a single mark on it anywhere. In my mind, the x230t was made for this purpose so I was not trying to baby it. after searching for more info on the subject, it appears that some people end up with scratches on their screens (using other models). this led me to buy the Photodon HD Anti-Glare screen protector from Amazon. it seems nice at first, but it completely desensitized the multitouch functionality. The pen still works as expected and it’s actually a bit easier to modulate pressure sensitivity with it. If anyone knows of a better alternative please let me know.
This was the major selling point to me and probably most people who are interested in this laptop. Otherwise, you’re probably better off getting the regular model or other Ultrabook at a lower price. For anyone who doesn’t know, Wacom is one of the few companies that make professional digital writing technologies. this is the stuff that allows you to write directly on the screen with a special pen called an active digitizer.
I found calibration of the screen to be good at the edges, although not perfect. some people have mentioned that the angle the pen is held at affects the calibration, others just think its bad all together. I found that it tracks pretty well at all areas of the screen. when you get close to the edge the calibration seems to be affected most by the distance the pen is held from the surface. As the pen is pulled directly up, the cursor will move towards the center of the screen. however, the cursor does accurately track the point at which the pen lands. this is the first tablet PC that I have owned, so my perspective might be completely different than someone who has owned similar units before. Check the end of the review for any links to relative information. Ill try and get a video put together showing the calibration and post it there when I do.
The pen itself has a nice feel to it and is a decent enough size. it only has one button typically used for right clicking and has a hard nib. The eraser end is also pressure sensitive and is spring loaded. I would prefer it to be a little softer since I feel like I am pressing to hard when I try and erase something. it has a few replacement nibs which are all of the hard variety . From what I understand, felt tip nibs can be purchased and that’s what I plan to do.
With the stock windows drivers, general functionality works great in all applications with the exception of pressure sensitivity. One of the exceptions is OneNote which worked fine out of the box. Installing the Wacom drivers enabled pressure sensitivity, but it seemed to make right clicking in OneNote a pain. Ill go more into detail on OneNote later.
I believe there is software installed on the shipping installation that allows the computer to boot up and log into windows from an off state by simply swiping your finger on the reader. That particular feature doesn’t work in Windows 8 at the moment, but regular login does. I can’t say I’m impressed with the technology at all. it has less than a 50% success rate for me which is greatly affected by moisture. I have clammy hands unfortunately and if I want any chance of it working, I must completely dry my finger.
Again, this could be a driver issue, as I used the Windows 7 drivers to get it working. I haven’t figured out how to use it to log into web sites or anything of the sort yet which is something that interested me since I frequently log in places with people that stand over me without enough decency to look away as I enter my passwords. Unfortunately, it won’t be getting much use from me in its current state.
I opted to get the Intel Advanced N 6205 AGN which is two steps up from the basic ThinkPad wireless. The x230t under review has the screen option with a 3×3 antenna setup of which only two are currently being used. That’s because the 6205 AGN only supports speeds of up to 300mb/s which is 150 per antenna. In order to use all three antennae, the Intel 6300 AGN would have to be used which enables speeds of up to 450mb/s with supporting routers.
The Intel chip appears to do extremely well in getting a strong signal out of busy signal areas. it is also about average at picking up weak wireless signals.
A Netgear WNR2000 v2 running DDWRT was used to perform the following tests. WPA2 encryption was also enabled. The Intel 6205 in the x230t will be compared to an Atheros 9285 inside an HP DM3-2010us. I realize these laptops are not in the same league, but it is all I am able to get my hands on at the moment.
On the windows Wi-Fi status screen, I found it interesting that the Intel chip would update its connection speed every second or two while the Atheros unit would only show the initial connection rate. The Intel would fluctuate from 5 up to 65Mbps while the Atheros was stuck at 65Mbps. In my opinion based on the data below, the Atheros is giving a false sense of speed and stability.
Tamosoft Throughput test was used to obtain the following:
I it’s hard to read, the graph is in Mbps tested at a distance of 5 and 80ft. As you can see, the Intel chip is far superior under these testing conditions. something that’s not transparent in the graph is stability. The Atheros unit would fluctuate up and down during testing while the Intel was relatively solid.
Using an Intel based chip over the standard ThinkPad chip also allows for Intel’s WIDI technology. Unfortunately it’s not currently working in Windows 8. I also don’t possess the necessary adapter to try it out.
With the standard voltage processor, this laptop should give performance on par or possibly better than most new desktops being produced. it contains Intel’s 3rdgeneration of Core i5 processor named Ivy Bridge. these chips use Intel’s newest fabrication process to increase performance while lowering power consumption. In particular, this x230t has the i5-3320 variant which has speeds of 2.6GHz as standard and 3.3GHz with turbo boost. there are plenty of reviews on the web going in depth on the new chips so I’ll leave the details at that.
Don’t forget, the following scores are based on having the extra stick of ram and the SSD, both of which are configurations available directly from Lenovo so I deem these benchmarks as fair.
Windows Experience Index
I don’t consider this to be any kind of great benchmark; however I have noticed that there are quite a few people out there who use it to some end.
I have tested my desktop system with Windows 8 and Windows 7 and these values are the same across the board except for the 7.9 score being the highest available in 7.
I don’t believe this score is attached to my Futuremark account, and I don’t know how long Futuremark keeps the scores online, but you can click the link at the bottom for detailed results. It’s working at the time of writing.
Since this is the free version of PCMark7 the standard settings that the program allows were used.
Ivy Bridge brings a noticeable leap in performance to Intel’s integrated graphics. I wanted an Ivy Bridge chip over Sandy Bridge for many reasons, and one of them was for the graphics core. I don’t plan to do much gaming on the tablet, but I am interested in OpenCL and DX 11 support among other things. The performance boost also brought it up to acceptable levels for mild gaming as we’ll see.
This is also the free version and performed at the standard settings. One of the tests showed graphical corruption which didn’t appear to enhance the score in any way. It’s most likely a problem with the beta Intel drivers that are needed for Windows 8 at the moment.
Intel’s beta drivers didn’t play nice with this game either as there would be screen corruption when zoomed to far out on the map. That didn’t make it unplayable however and it even got a decent score. The DX9 path ran faster than the 10/11 path, so that was used. when using this path, the game did not let me save any settings other than what’s shown below for some reason. it turned out ok as they are the settings that worked perfectly to achieve a nice frame rate.
The benchmark was done using fraps and the screen was zoomed in just far enough to avoid the aforementioned screen corruption problem. it happened to be at a zoom level I personally like to play at as well.
Frames: 2305 – Time: 60000ms – Avg: 38.417 – Min: 34 – Max: 42
Charts can be found below.
Yes, the graphics are capable of playing recent games like Skyrim! Albeit, on lower quality settings as shown below. this game didn’t appear to have any problems working with Intel’s drivers.
Even at the low settings, the game looks pretty good, and is definitely playable!
Frames: 2064 – Time: 60000ms – Avg: 34.400 – Min: 27 – Max: 42
Unfortunately I don’t have very many technical tools to properly measure the power consumption of the laptop. I do have a Belkin power meter which was used to get the following results. there is nothing scientific about this, and it’s more of an observation in as controlled of a manner as I was able to perform. this device measures power use at the wall socket so it is not taking power supply efficiency out of the equation.
Performed with the highest screen brightness and OCCT for any stress testing.
During the Combined load, the CPU itself didn’t appear to be very stressed. It’s possible that the GPU portion of the chip was already consuming most of the 35w thermal envelope. That would also explain why the power use didn’t go up when adding a load to the CPU.
I adjusted the other settings available in the power options screen which didn’t make much of a difference. perhaps a total of 0.5w with all the extra power settings enabled at idle. under load is a different story however as adjusting the system performance to low causes to computer to keep the processor running at 1.2GHz, a speed normally reserved for idle. under the balanced setting, it will hit the standard speed of 2.6GHz without entering turboboost.. at both the turbo and max turbo settings it would go to 3.1GHz. I imagine max turbo allows it to hit the 3.3GHz for a brief period as claimed by Intel.
Off = 0w, Lowest Brightness = 0.7w, Half Brightness = 2.8w, Highest Brightness = 5.0w
When you consider that the laptop idles with the lowest brightness setting at only 10.6w, just turning the brightness up all the way makes the laptop use about 41% more power! Thankfully 15w is still relatively low.
Low = 0.3w, High = 1.4w
As expected, if you are on battery power, you should either type with the light off or on the low setting. It’s more than adequate on the low setting anyways.
Civ 5 = 53.1w, Skyrim = 53.6w
This is about what I was expecting since it was shown that the thermal envelope of the processor cuts off at about 55w total system draw. Games can stress your system but they are almost never as efficient as something like the OCCT test in pulling every last bit of power out of a GPU.
I streamed an encoded video of one of my DVD’s over the wireless network. full screen brightness was used.
h.264 Playback = 20.3w
That’s not too bad, only using about 5.4w of system power to process and stream the video.
Miscellaneous Power Draw
Setting the laptop in airplane mode to turn off wireless devices saved the laptop about 0.3w. That was the same amount saved when manually disabling the wireless adapter. this would be more of a concern on a mobile phone and probably won’t help too much unless you are really trying to squeeze the most time out of your machine.
It was interesting to note that the Windows 8 Metro interfaced only used about 0.3 watts extra. it was extremely difficult to get an accurate measurement as the live tiles caused the reading to fluctuate constantly. it was minimal, but it did use slightly more.
This is being determined using math instead of some fancy program or letting the battery run dry.
The equation is simple: Watts * Hours = Watt Hours, Tada! since the battery has 63.83Wh at full capacity according to the Lenovo battery meter, we can easily plug in different values from the previous section of the article to get estimated times. Again, the watts I listed don’t account for the efficiency of the charger and therefor the times should be slightly better although I doubt it will be by much.
At Idle with the lowest brightness:
10.6w * hours = 63.83wh
So, runtime at idle = 6 hours and 1 minute which seems to be about what others are getting from what I understand.
You would get about 1 hour and 12 minutes during a gaming session, or 3 hours and 8 minutes of movie watching at full brightness. If you use the lowest brightness, it would go up to 4 hours.
You can mix and match any of the watt values I listed to figure out about how long the laptop will last in a given scenario.
Temperature and Fan Noise
As you can see the temperature gets a bit toasty to ~85deg during load for 10 minutes. it is within Intel’s specifications and as you can see, it was still running in turbo boost mode of 3.1GHz. That means Intel’s thermal protection didn’t kick in yet. The fan noise is kept pretty well in check. it does spin up under load but it doesn’t have a particularly annoying pitch to it. during normal use it barely spins up, and even when it does, it’s not very noticeable in a normal environment.
Daily use / ThoughtsAnnoyances
After using the x230t for a bit, I noticed a few things which I thought I should point out. For starters, the power cord sticks out of the back, and it’s a big plug.
I originally thought I might like this setup, however after using it I can say in presents a problem in that you have to be cautious of how you pick the laptop up. I tend to grab it from the front and lift up which could potentially put a lot of strain on that socket. Fortunately I chose to get the 6 cell battery which sticks out the back and places the pivot point at a near acceptable distance for the plug. some would argue that this problem holds true of side mounted plugs. I agree, however you can typically see them very easily while picking up the laptop which makes it easy to adjust your actions accordingly. If it’s out of sight on the back, the user must actively think about it.
Another thing I noticed is that you can’t easily change the volume when in tablet mode. The volume buttons are on the base of the laptop and get covered up when put in tablet mode. I didn’t think much of this at first since Windows 8 has relatively easy access to the volume control when using a touchscreen. Once you load a program like a game however, these features are no longer available and the only way to adjust the volume is through the programs menu, opening the tablet, or quitting the program and adjusting the settings. this may not be too big of a deal for most as it seems to only be a problem during gaming or possible a few other programs that completely take over your screen. since many traditional desktop games are not very touch friendly anyways, the people who will game with the x230t will probably play in laptop mode anyways making this point mute. Of course metro games are the exception, but they allow Microsoft new charms interface to work creating easy access to the volume control.
With that said, Lenovo does allow you to configure one of the three buttons found on the face of the tablet. I chose to set this as a mute button in case I’m in a quiet environment and forget to turn off the speakers before entering tablet mode. From left to right you have Power, Lock, and Rotate. The rotate button can be configured and also allows for a long press. Mute in my case.
Writing in OneNote
Overall the experience here is positive. I can’t say I have given it an extended amount of use as of yet, but what I noticed is that out of the box it works well. Unfortunately Windows 8 does not yet play completely nice with OneNote. That means pinch to zoom is not working. Apparently Microsoft is aware of this problem and promises it will be fixed before the official release of Windows 8. Other than that, OneNote does an extremely good job of recognizing my terrible handwriting. The ink as it’s called is also very legible, unlike many other setups that look very… computerized? sorry for the lack of a better explanation. I haven’t used it for any large projects yet, but I did make one as test with lots of pictures and random ink. The x230t did admirably in keeping everything flowing smoothly.
One of my hobbies is photography, so this is another area I thought the x230t would be very useful. currently I haven’t had much time to fool around with it but I will update this section once I do.
In the meantime I did notice that pressure sensitivity only works with Wacom drivers installed. Unfortunately it seemed to mess up the way right clicking worked which became annoying when using OneNote, so I removed them for now.
Windows 8 – what Works
For the most part, everything works in Windows 8. some devices like the fingerprint reader, usb3.0, and Synaptics touchpad need drivers from Windows 7 installed. Windows 8 did install generic drivers for the touchpad which worked fine, but they were missing multitouch and sensitivity settings. there are also two entries in the Device Manager which I have yet to figure out what they are for. I suspect they may have something to do with the express card slot as I have not tested that and I see nothing about it listed. As per the comment section below, these two devices are related to Intel’s Management Engine Interface including the AMT portion which is supposed to let IT personnel remotely administer your computer. its mostly for company laptops.
If your trying to get things working, try using Windows 7 drivers. I haven’t had any major problems with them, but just make sure you set compatibility mode to windows 7 and some also need the run as administrator box checked.
Overall I am impressed with what Lenovo is offering and I’m glad I made the decision to purchase the x230t. there is plenty of performance for most tasks, as well as decent graphics performance for light gaming. Let’s not forget the excellent screen with pen input either.
Comparison of single and dual channel memory:
Most people interested in this machine have probably already been to Jesse’s site at www.jessebandersen.com. If not you should check it out, it’s got a wealth of information on this particular model as well as some other touchscreen devices he has used. His info is partly what helped me decide to purchase the x230t.
Gaming with the x230twww.youtube.com/watch?v=-6oS61rl9F0
My problem with Onenote MX on the x230t:
Digitizer Accuracy Video:
Lenovo X230T Tablet PC Review with Windows 8 RP
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